I Got Straight Edge

Kati Vilim, 3D-2D, 2011, oil, canvas over panel, 48x48 in

New Jersey is dirty. [A garbage truck groans.] That’s a fact. If you want purity, go see Kati Vilim’s series of modest new paintings. It comes with a price. Her geometric abstractions declare themselves like a smack in the face. I’m no masochist, but I need a wake-up call from time to time.

Working in the tradition of Russian Constructivism, Vilim makes paintings of vibrant geometric shapes that float above pristine white expanses. The look is spartan, but the mood is light.

Kati Vilim, Straight Up!, 2011, oil, canvas over panel, 24x24 in

In Straight Up, a series of geometric forms come together as a cadre of “V” and “L” shapes. To the lower left-hand side, short and deliberate bands of color huddle at edge of the canvas. In Movement, a series of colored bars zigzag above a white field as a jumble of trapezoids–demarcated by thin contour lines–bandy about.

3D-2D presents a three-dimensional network of cubes, which evoke the pyramid from Q*bert. Overhead, a colorful assembly of floating, irregular quadrilaterals rises and falls. Crossing Beyond presents a sequence of interlocking planes of pure color, which intersect in odd, often unexpected moments. A sharp red triangle pops its head up like a prairie dog. A thin band of magenta acts as a DMZ between larger geometric bodies.

Vilim restricts her palette to red, green, blue, cyan, magenta, and yellow. The colors are what they are. Nothing more. Nothing less. There is no subtext.

Shapes range from squares and rectangles to parallelograms and irregular polygons. The lines are crisp but not perfect (she does not use tape to mask sections). Though restrained, the paint has been applied to give the suggestion of the artist’s hand. At first glance, the white backgrounds look pure and unruffled. On closer inspection, the surface is warm and creamy like a thin spread of butter. Hints of pencil marks begin to reveal themselves.

When you see them in person, the colored shapes are constantly advancing and receding on the picture plane, allowing your imagination to play. In your mind’s eye, the shapes may conjure up Christmas lights flickering around an artificial tree; in another, agitated teenagers bouncing off the streets after school; elsewhere, unruly commuters shifting from side-to-side on a crowded subway platform. I think of crude computer games for Atari 2600: Pong, Berzerk, Breakout. I detect banners, flags, emblems, and vintage travel posters from the 1960s.

A light installation by Vilim.

I imagine it is easy to dismiss Vilim’s paintings. (Colored shapes on white canvases do not scream: Look at me.) To behold their quiet visual aplomb requires time–minutes, not seconds. In the room adjacent to the gallery, Vilim installed a set of 10 fluorescent lights to the wall. Though the lights vary in length and color, they hang upright, with small gap between them. Like Dan Flavin, these lights inhabit the space, bathing the room in light and color.

Kati Vilim: Luminous Angle was up at The Kedar Studio of Art from October 21 to November 19, 2011.

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